Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

February 26, 2014

Bob Jones University has faced considerable criticism for its announcement this month that it had ended a contract with an outside group to investigate how the university has responded when students have reported sex abuse. The university was vague about why it ended the study, and many noted that abuse victims who shared their stories with the investigators would feel betrayed. But the university has now announced that based on additional discussions with the investigators, they have been rehired to finish their work.

 

February 26, 2014

Men of color attending community colleges are less likely to obtain an associate degree than are white males, despite being the most engaged in and out of the classroom, a new report finds. In "Aspirations to Achievement: Men of Color and Community Colleges," the Center for Community College Student Engagement reveals that even though black and Latino students at two-year institutions show more interest than their white peers in obtaining an associate degree or certificate, only 5 percent actually accomplish that goal within three years, compared to 32 percent for white students.

One of the reasons the gap might exist, the authors of the report say, is because of what they call stereotype threat. That’s the “fear of fulfilling a negative stereotype,” and it can be triggered unintentionally. That fear can affect a student’s performance in the classroom. Recommendations to help close the gap, they say, start with institutions first acknowledging the issue, because not enough of them are looking at how systemic disparities can affect a student of color’s educational experience. The report offers tools for leaders at these colleges to conduct focus groups, and questions to help guide campus-based and community-based discussions on issues such as aspiration, achievement and equity.

“Grappling with these disparities is a task for virtually every community college,” said Kay McClenney, the director of Center for Community College Student Engagement, in a press release. “Campus conversations and actions must address at least three factors: substantially different levels of college readiness across racial and ethnic groups, the demonstrated effects of stereotype threat on performance in higher education, and continuing impacts of structural racism evident in systems throughout American society,” she said.

February 26, 2014

A total of 370 colleges and universities met the federal definition of "Hispanic-serving institution" in 2012-13, up from 356 the previous year, Excelencia in Education said in its annual analysis of the fast-growing sector of higher education. The group reported that about 60 percent of all Latino students were enrolled in such institutions, and that the colleges and universities were heavily concentrated geographically, with more than 80 percent of them located in five states.

February 26, 2014

Ever since a 2009 law restricted the ability of credit card companies to push their wares on college students, the companies have substantially reined in their marketing to students -- but are targeting alumni instead, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released Tuesday

The GAO report found a decline in the number and value of affinity card agreements, in which issuers use the institution's name or logo in exchange for payments. Several leading providers of credit cards said that they had ceased their marketing to students, and college officials interviewed by GAO agreed.

February 26, 2014

     

Sallie Mae’s loan servicing operations will soon be housed in a separate business entity called Navient, the company announced Tuesday.

As it first disclosed last year, Sallie Mae--formally known as SLM Corp.-- is in the process of splitting up into two distinct companies: Navient and Sallie Mae.  

Navient, starting this fall, will service most of Sallie Mae’ existing private student loan portfolio and also assume responsibility for Sallie Mae’s contract with the U.S. Department of Education to manage the payments of federal student loan borrowers.

The company’s consumer banking business will continue under the name Sallie Mae and will originate new private student loans and service those loans.

Sallie Mae is the largest servicer of the federal government’s portfolio of direct student loans, with some 5.7 million accounts.

The Education Department also issued guidance Tuesday about the changes, which will begin to affect borrowers this fall. The department described the impact on federal student loan borrowers as “minimal.”

Federal borrowers whose accounts are currently managed by Sallie Mae will be able to contact Navient at the same phone numbers and mailing address, but they will need to log on to their accounts at a new website. In addition, borrowers will have to write checks using the new name and change any online bill paying services. A borrower who has set up automatic debiting from a bank, however, no action will be required, the department said.

Sallie Mae said in a statement that those borrowers would receive this spring and summer “personalized information about their account and any changes needed to ensure a smooth transition.”

The company’s split comes as its student loan servicing practices have come under scrutiny from federal regulators, several members of Congress and consumer advocates. Sallie Mae is facing multiple inquiries over how it applied the loan payments of military servicemembers, who are entitled to special borrower benefits.

Sallie Mae has disclosed to investors that it set aside $70 million, as of the end of 2013, to cover the “expected compliance remediation” relating to those inquiries.

Consumer advocates, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a Democrat, have also complained that the Education Department is too lax in its oversight of how Sallie Mae services federal loans.

A group of state attorneys general, led by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, are also probing the company’s debt collection, loan servicing and other practices. 

February 26, 2014

The University of Michigan is under federal investigation for its handling of a rape allegation against a former football player, The Los Angeles Times reported. The U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights will examine the university’s Title IX grievance procedures and determine whether Michigan responded appropriately to complaints, reports and incidents of sexual violence. The athlete, Brandon Gibbons, was expelled in December for sexual misconduct, but the incident in question allegedly occurred in November 2009. Gibbons was arrested but no charges were filed.

February 26, 2014

A state judge has backed the City University of New York on a challenge by its faculty union to the controversial "Pathways" program to align the curriculum to ease transfer from CUNY's two-year to four-year colleges. The Professional Staff Congress, the union, challenged the system's legal authority to institute a major academic change, arguing that faculty members needed to play more of a role. A state judge found this argument "devoid of merit."  The faculty union is vowing to appeal the judge's decision, and is also urging the New York City Council to intervene in the dispute.

 

February 26, 2014

Modesto Junior College has settled a lawsuit with a student who was forbidden from handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution on Constitution Day in September. Army veteran Robert Van Tuinen had argued that administrators violated his First Amendment rights. Video captured campus officials telling Van Tuinen to book a “free speech area,” which would take at least three days. As part of the settlement, the college will revise its policies to allow free speech in open areas across campus and will pay Van Tuinen $50,000.

February 26, 2014

Some students and faculty members at St. Joseph's University, in Pennsylvania, are concerned about plans to deal with a deficit by increasing enrollment, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The university is facing an $8.7 million budget shortfall. Administrators have already imposed budget cuts throughout the campus, and argue that they can deal with some of the remaining financial challenges by increasing this fall's freshman class from 1,275 to 1,500. Critics say such an increase will lead to larger class sizes and/or lower admissions standards.

 

February 26, 2014

The University of Cambridge's Regent House (the governing board, made up largely of academics) has approved a controversial endowed chair to honor Stephen Hawking, Times Higher Education reported. The controversy is not over honoring Hawking, but because the size of the endowment will support a salary nearly double that paid to other professors. Further, the terms of the gift specify that the salary must be "equal to or greater than the average salary and benefits" for other professors "of similar years of service, or rank" in the department of applied mathematics and theoretical physics. Critics objected to the salary provisions, and the chair was approved by a margin of 746 to 606.

 

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